Being Your Authentic Self In Professional Environments

Lately, I have been thinking about authenticity and how to embrace my authentic self.  I’ve been thinking about this from a personal perspective, of course, but also from a professional perspective.  I think it’s much more difficult to be your authentic self in a professional environment, both in-person and online.

I also think most people would agree that professional success is highly dependent on deep personal relationships.  But, deep personal relationships are, in turn, highly dependent upon people being their authentic selves.  So, it seems that professional success might be impeded by people not being able to be their authentic selves in the workplace or in online business environments.

To illustrate my point, let me use the example of Bruce Harvey, an Atlanta attorney who is well known for being (among other things) his authentic self.  I was in law school the first time I saw Bruce speak, and I was blown away.   Bruce had a ponytail and, I was told, rode a Harley and had tattoos.  Bruce completely destroyed my conservative personal notion of how an attorney should look.  I remember being judgmental of Bruce and thinking, “wow, what kind of attorney would look and behave like that.”  I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one thinking that.  Since that time, however, I have come to realize that Bruce was being (and as far as I can tell has always been) his most authentic self, and I have developed a great respect for that.

Bruce’s story is particularly relevant for me,  because I myself got tattoos later in life and even owned a Harley for a few years.  If I had more hair, I might have even grown a ponytail (ah, if only dreams really did come true).   But, I have always been incredibly shy of letting people in the workplace see my authentic self, including my tattoos, but also in other ways.  I think this is, in part, because being your authentic self requires vulnerability, and it can be incredibly difficult to be vulnerable in the workplace.

However, being vulnerable and being your authentic self can lead to deep satisfaction, including deep connections in the workplace and in your personal life.  Being your authentic self in professional environments can also lead to many other benefits, including:

  • Allowing you to find genuine satisfaction in your career;
  • Making you more confident in your decisions;
  • Allowing you to make deeper relationships with co-workers, which can lead to higher levels of creativity and productivity;
  • Enabling you to better manage fear;
  • Making you more likely to be seen as a leader;
  • Creating trust with your co-workers and colleagues;
  • Allowing your co-workers and colleagues to also be their authentic selves; and
  • Generally being more successful on your chosen path.

But, being yourself at work can be incredibly difficult.  In fact, if you are completely unable to be your authentic self in your workplace, it might indicate that you aren’t in the right place or even in the right occupation. Short of finding a new employer or career, however, there are many things that you can do to become more authentic in the workplace.  Here are a few:

  • Most importantly, be true to yourself by making sure that what you say and do matches with how you feel;
  • Realize that authenticity doesn’t have to mean unprofessional (Bruce Harvey had a ponytail, but he wore an appropriate suit, for example);
  • Give up on trying to achieve perfection in everything that you do;
  • Know yourself well, including facing up to your strengths and your vulnerabilities; and
  • Realize that it’s your choice to show up authentically and genuinely.

Also, understand that being your authentic genuine self in the workplace is a  journey, not something that can happen overnight.  I myself am just beginning this journey.  But, even in these early days, I can already feel some of the positive benefits that I identified above.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Steve Jobs which, rightfully so, appears to be cited by just about every blog post on authenticity because it sums up so well what authenticity is all about:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” -Steve Jobs

For additional reading, please see the excellent article at:  Magazine and the book Wired for Authenticity by the same author.

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